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RIMPAC ships will soon fill Pearl Harbor for war games

The soon-to-be commissioned amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland transits Guantanamo Bay during a brief fuel stop, Jan. 2, 2018. (JOHN WAGNER JR./U.S. NAVY PHOTO)

The flagship for the big Rim of the Pacific exercise, the recently commissioned $1.6 billion USS Portland, has arrived in Hawaii, and a fleet of U.S. and international ships will soon be on the way, filling Pearl Harbor for the biennial war games.

Twenty-six nations, 47 surface ships, five submarines, 18 national land forces, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel will participate in the world’s largest international maritime exercise June 27 to Aug. 2.

RIMPAC is held primarily in Hawaii but has a mine warfare element in Southern California.

The harbor phase, when ships are sometimes lined up two and three abreast in Pearl Harbor — and when the most service members will be on the town — is scheduled for June 27 to July 8.

Most ships will arrive a day or two ahead of the start, the Navy said.

Navy Region Hawaii two years ago calculated an initial $52.5 million boost to Hawaii’s economy from RIMPAC, with even more spending on food, fuel and purchases by family and friends.

“We expect RIMPAC 2018 to bring tens of millions of dollars into the state again this year. Many RIMPAC participants return to the islands with friends and family well after the exercise to experience the beauty and hospitality Hawaii is world-famous for,” Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, said in an email.

The Indian frigate INS ­Sahyadri is en route to Hawaii, the Navy said. The Chilean frigate CNS Almirante Lynch is on the way to San Diego and then will be part of a group sail to Pearl.

The Philippines’ landing platform dock vessel BRP Davao Del Sur and frigate BRP Andres Bonifacio, along with a naval helicopter, will leave Wednesday for RIMPAC, the Philippine News Agency said.

Lt. Julianne Holland, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s 3rd Fleet in San Diego, which plans and leads RIMPAC, said it’s the first time the Philippines is sending ships and aircraft.

Malaysia is sending a ship for the first time as well: the frigate KD Lekiu.

Brazil, Israel, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are participating in the prestigious exercise for the first time, with some sending staff members.

“It’s pretty significant because it is … RIMPAC,” Holland said. “But any country can come and support as long as they’ve done the observer program — which Israel did in 2016. But they can always learn from other areas, other partners.”

In the past, officials have said RIMPAC is an “exercise in response and interoperability” that fosters multinational cooperation and trust and promotes regional stability.

Participation also sends a geopolitical message. India and Vietnam, both wary of China’s military growth, last month participated in the first-ever joint naval exercise in Danang, Vietnam, according to Asia Times.

U.S. Pacific Command was recently re-branded U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. The U.S. Embassy in India said the renaming was a “symbolic nod to India” and that it was “looking forward to” higher levels of U.S.-Indian defense cooperation.

The Pentagon recently announced, meanwhile, that it was disinviting China from RIMPAC as the United States continues to disagree with China’s military buildup in the South China Sea.

The United States is sending to RIMPAC the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, amphibious ship USS Bonhomme Richard, seven destroyers and two cruisers, among other ships.

The amphibious ship USS Portland, the flagship for RIMPAC, is conducting sea trials in the Hawaii area after pulling into Pearl Harbor on May 29.

The command center for 3rd Fleet, which has the Eastern Pacific and reports to U.S. Pacific Fleet, is relocating from San Diego to Pearl Harbor for RIMPAC. The command will be at Hospital Point for the first part of the exercise and then transition to the Portland.

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© 2018 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.